Opinion

Cori Bush and AOC Are Right About Jan. 6 and 1866

When, in the early morning hours of Jan. 7, Congress finally certified the 2020 Electoral College count, more than 140 Republican members of Congress had voted, in one way or another, to reject the outcome. They had embraced the spirit of the mob that stormed the Capitol the day before, even if they had not physically joined it.

With that said, there was a smaller number of Congressional Republicans who may have gone further than simply casting a vote the way President Trump wanted them to, in the days leading up to Jan. 6. According to a new report by Hunter Walker in Rolling Stone, “Multiple people associated with the March for Trump and Stop the Steal events that took place during this period communicated with members of Congress throughout this process.”

Walker’s sources, two unnamed organizers who say they helped plan the rallies, claim that Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene, Andy Biggs, Paul Gosar, Lauren Boebert, Mo Brooks, Madison Cawthorn and Louie Gohmert or members of their staffs spoke to or collaborated with pro-Trump activists in the days, weeks and months before the attack on the Capitol. Gosar, a staunch defender of the former president, reportedly told potential rally goers that Trump would give them a “blanket pardon” for their activities.

Greene, Gohmert, Boebert, Brooks, Cawthorn and Biggs have all pushed back strongly on the Rolling Stone report, which appeared over the weekend. Gosar called it “categorically false and defamatory.”

“There was a meeting at the White House about voter fraud and election theft activity,” Brooks said. “But I have no recollection of any kind of organizational activity regarding the speeches on Jan. 6.”

For his part, Gohmert released a statement Monday: “No one in my office, including me, participated in the planning of the rally or in any criminal activity on Jan. 6. We did not attend or participate at all.”

Boebert also issued a statement on Monday: “Let me be clear. I had no role in the planning or execution of any event that took place at the Capitol or anywhere in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6th.”

The organizers who spoke to Rolling Stone apparently plan to testify before the Jan. 6 select committee to provide more details about what they say was collaboration between Republican lawmakers and the pro-Trump activists who planned the events that ultimately led to the attack on the Capitol.

In the meantime, some Democrats are already calling for their removal from office.

“Any member of Congress who helped plot a terrorist attack on our nation’s capitol must be expelled,” Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter. “Those responsible remain a danger to our democracy, our country, and human life in the vicinity of our Capitol and beyond.”

Likewise, Representative Cori Bush of Missouri said on Twitter that the House must “investigate and expel members of Congress who helped incite the deadly insurrection on our Capitol.”

Bush had actually introduced a House resolution for this purpose just days after the attack. “There is no place in the people’s House for these heinous actions,” she said at the time, referring to “members who attempted to disenfranchise voters and incited this violence.”

“I firmly believe,” she went on, “that these members are in breach of their sworn Oath of Office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. They must be held accountable.”

They weren’t. There was simply no appetite, among House leadership, for such drastic and decisive action. There still isn’t. But it was a serious demand, and we should take it seriously.

Bush’s resolution rests on section three of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which cleared Congress in 1866 and was ratified in 1868:

In plain English, Congress has the power and authority to expel from office any constitutional officer who engages in sedition and takes up arms against the Constitution of the United States.

The original context for this, obviously, was the Civil War and its immediate aftermath. By the summer of 1865, President Andrew Johnson, a conservative unionist from Tennessee, had taken charge of Reconstruction with a plan to restore the Southern states as equals, their political and constitutional status essentially unchanged from what it was before the war.

Under Johnson’s arrangement, the former Confederate states could operate under their antebellum constitutions, the end of slavery notwithstanding. All-white electorates could elect all-white legislatures and send all-white delegations to Washington. Some of these men were, like Johnson, conservative unionists. Many more were ex-rebel leaders. Alexander Stephens — of the infamous Cornerstone Speech — was elected to represent Georgia in the Senate in 1866 after he was arrested and imprisoned as the former vice president of the Confederacy in 1865.

Either way, neither group supported anything like fundamental change to the social and political fabric of the South. If seated, these delegations to Congress would stymie and block any Republican effort to reconstruct the South as an open society with free labor.

Indeed, had every Southern representative been seated, Republicans would not have had the votes to get the 14th Amendment through Congress in the first place, on account of the two-thirds majority requirement for passage.

Worse than potential obstruction was the real chance that the South would re-enter Congress with as much, or more, political power than it had before the war. The 13th Amendment had abolished chattel slavery, which effectively gutted the three-fifths compromise. And thanks to Johnson, recalcitrant Southern elites could form new governments without extending the vote to free and recently freed Blacks. When the 14th Amendment repealed the three-fifths compromise outright, the effect would be to give the South a considerable bonus in Congress.

“Beginning with the reapportionment of 1870,” the legal scholar Garrett Epps writes in “The Antebellum Political Background of the Fourteenth Amendment,” “the Southern states would receive full representation for each freed slave rather than a mere sixty percent, a change that would give the region thirteen more House seats and electoral votes without the extension of minimal political rights, much less the franchise, to the freed slaves who formed the basis of the representation.”

To head off this threat, Republicans took two steps. First, they refused to recognize, much less seat, members from the states readmitted under Johnson’s policies. And then, looking to the future, they wrote this prohibition on former Confederate leaders into the Constitution as section three of the 14th Amendment. Republicans would prevent the re-ascendence of this “slave power” with a blockade of federal office deployed against Southern elites.

If the ultimate goal of section three, in other words, was to preserve the integrity of Congress against those who would capture its power and plot against the constitutional order itself, then Representative Bush is right to cite the clause against any members of Congress who turn out to have collaborated with the plotters to overturn the election and whose allies are still fighting to “stop the steal.”

There is a movement afoot to undermine electoral democracy for the sake of a would-be strongman. We have the tools to stop it. Congress, and by this I mean the Democratic majority, should use them.

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